Clary Illian embraces change

The focus of the DVD Clary Illian: A Year in the Life (Atom Burke Productions) are the changes that Illian went through when she fell and broke her wrist. While her bones mended, Illian took a hiatus from pottery production (for the first time in the over 40 years that have passed since she apprenticed with Bernard Leach) and spent time reflecting on where she’s been and where she’s going. In interview excerpts Illian reveals that her large gas kilns kept her on a rigourous two-month production cycle and that sometimes she felt like she was pushing an enormous pile of pots up a hill to the top. Illian could see a day coming when she would no longer be able to keep up this schedule so after her wrist healed she switched to electric firing and what looks like earthenware clay (the video mentions “lower temperature” but does not specify how much lower). Illian’s work has always been unrestrained but with the bright glaze colours available at the lower temperature, she has let whimsy take hold and now decorates her work with loosely painted flowers, cats, birds, faces or just squiggly lines. Also included on the DVD is the video A Life In Clay in which Illian talks about her time at summer camp (“they made us all good girls”), her art school beginnings and her new, more-calculated way of looking at production. There’s also a slide show of both her gas- and electric-fired work, and a couple of short interviews with other potters who admire her work. The DVD seems to be directed at a general audience and the potter in me wanted more details about Illian’s process (and a faster slide show) but this small glimpse of Illian’s life and work was both interesting and inspiring.

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